The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention informed the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights by fax Thursday that it considers the detention of four pro-democracy activists – Le Cong Dinh, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Nguyen Tien Trung and Le Thang Long – to be a violation of international law. The UN Working Group calls on Vietnam to release the four men and grant them compensation in accordance with the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Vietnam has been a party since 1982.
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights submitted the case of the four activists to the UN Working Group in Geneva following their arbitrary condemnation in January 2010 at an unfair trial in Ho Chi Minh City to sentences ranging from five to sixteen years in prison followed by three to fives years house arrest on subversion charges. The defendants, whose “crime” was to call peacefully for political reforms, all appealed against their sentence, except Nguyen Tien Trung, who was condemned to seven years in prison.
On May 10th 2010, the Ho Chi Minh City Appeals court upheld the sentences against human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh (five years in prison) and Tran Huynh Duy Thuc (16 years in prison). The sentence of Le Thang Long was reduced from five years to 40 months in prison, and he was released in June 2012, six months before completing his sentence.
In March 2012, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights met with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at the Office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, including the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Freedom of Religion or Belief and Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly to press for the release of a number of human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists detained in Vietnam.
Following UN procedures, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention communicated this information to the Vietnamese government on March 15th 2012. In a letter dated July 13th 2012, the government of Vietnam denied the allegations and claimed that the men were imprisoned because they had violated Vietnamese law. At a meeting on August 29th to examine the case, the Working Group declared that the detention of the four men was “arbitrary and in contravention of articles 9, 19 and 21 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a party”.
In this opinion, the UN Working Group rejected Vietnam’s claim that their detention was justified, since “even if the detention is in conformity with national legislation, the Working Group must ensure that it is also consistent with the relevant provisions of international law”.
The UN Working Group condemned the broad wording of certain provisions in Vietnam’s Criminal Code, such as “taking advantage of democratic freedoms and rights to abuse the interests of the State”, which it says is “so vague that it could result in penalties being imposed not only on persons using violence for political ends, but also on persons who have merely exercised their legitimate right to freedom of opinion or expression”.
The group found no evidence of the men’s involvement in violent activities to justify their conviction for “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” and stressed that “the holding and expressing of opinions, including those which are not in line with official Government policy, are protected under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.
In conclusion, the UN Working Group called on Vietnam “to release Le Cong Dinh, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Nguyen Tien Trung and Le Thanh Long and to accord them compensation in accordance with article 9, paragraph 5 of the the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights welcomes this opinion. The Committee has consistently denounced the vaguely-worded “national security” provisions in Vietnam’s Criminal Code since 1994, when the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention made a visit to Vietnam. The Committee reiterates the UN Working Group’s call for their release, as well as that of all others detained for the peaceful expression of legitimate political opinions or religious beliefs, such as bloggers Dieu Cay, Ta Phong Tan, Phan Thanh Hai and songwriters Viet Khang and Tran Vu Anh Binh, and UBCV leader Thich Quang Do who is under arbitrary detention without any justification or charge.